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Women About Sound: The practical workshops helping women make music

The Wireless logo The Wireless 17/03/2017

We talk to Jess Haugh of Scarlett Lashes about giving female musicians the tools to create in a male dominated industry.

  © Provided by Radio New Zealand Limited

Despite being a #hottopic in the media for some time now, sexism in the music industry is still a thing.

The Guardian reports that in the UK women make up only 30 percent of senior music industry roles, in spite of comprising more than half of entry-level roles. An investigation by ABC’s Triple J found that male artists make up the overwhelming majority of paid music-makers in Australia and are significantly more likely to get radio play, be booked for festivals and receive funding grants.

New Zealand it seems is no exception, and with visiting Swedes taking it upon themselves to point out the lack of gender diversity at our major festivals, impatience is growing amongst members of the female music community to find a solution.

Jess Haugh, aka electro-pop act Scarlett Lashes, is one of them. Working in Auckland for close to a decade as a performer, composer and audio engineer, she has long been frustrated by the lack of change in the industry and the scene that sustains it.

It was out of this frustration that Haugh has created Women About Sound: A series of free workshops for female musicians that will combine theoretical discussion with songwriting, resulting in the opportunity to actually record their music.

With funding from Creative Communities and renowned female musicians like Caitlin Smith, Ladi6, Elizabeth Stokes on board, the project aims to not only engage female musicians in the discussion but to help provide them with the tools to take practical action.

Ahead of the first session on Sunday at Auckland’s Audio Foundation, we talked to Jess about Women About Sound, sexism in music and whether things are changing.

What is Women About Sound?

The idea is to have some workshops, then there's the opportunity to record.

The idea is to create a bit of a community feel for female musicians with these workshops, to get people together and to provide an opportunity to sort of network, meet some other musicians, get some support, and just some more confidence.

The aim is to get some of the musicians to record one of their songs so that then we can have something at the end of it, and they can have something that can go on the radio, on the internet, so that there's something to show for it.

I wanted to do something that would actually produce something like a positive action. Rather than just talking about stuff, actually doing something.

What was the catalyst that made you want to set this up?

I've been thinking about it for quite a while, about the lack of female artists. I mean I'm probably biased, I always listen to more female musicians and I find it a bit disappointing when you go to things and there's not that many women on stage.

I find it uninspiring, and it just made me start to think, “What's going on? What's happening?”.

There have been a few panel discussions and get-togethers of people talking about how to improve the industry for women. Why was it important for you to do something so practical?

I went along to a panel discussion last year and I thought it was really great but then you sort of come away from feeling like "ugh, what do I do?” So I thought it would be cool to do a project where you actually have something at the end of it for participants.

You know there's so many reasons why women are still such a minority in the industry, but I think one of the things to help is to create more visibility, so the more women out there doing their thing and that are visible and have recordings that they can show, then that encourages more people to think “I can do that”.

You've been working as a musician in the Auckland music scene for quite a long time now, have you felt like things have changed for female musicians in that time?

No, I don't know if it's greatly improved. I don't see any greater amount of females doing their thing, to be honest.

I think there's more awareness, obviously, in recent times of potential discrimination or attitudes towards women, but again in a practical sense I haven't actually seen an increase in female musicians.

I try and organise gigs and I like to try and get some female musicians. Sometimes it's quite hard because there's just not as many around and I've been to festivals where it's still such a minority as well.

Do you feel like there's an accessibility issue? Or is that when women do make it into the industry something is stopping them getting further?

It's an interesting thing, I mean I don't have the answers of why this is happening. But yeah, that's something to look into: What are the barriers that are stopping women as teenagers? What's happening there?

There's a lot of young guys who join bands but why isn't it the same with girls? And I think that's where the real lack is, there's heaps of four-piece guy bands, but it's a novelty if there's a four-piece girl band. So why is that occurring?

As a woman in the music industry, is the sexism you've experienced explicit and outward or is it more insidious and implicit?

I think most of the time it's implicit. Not so much anymore, but I've definitely struck a few guys that would just treat you like you don't know anything about what your music's supposed to sound like.

For me, my music’s quite challenging, maybe specifically challenging for guys. I probably get a bit more outwardly just people going "what is she doing?"

You are quite a provocative performer - do you aim to generate discussion with your music?

Yeah, part of my act is to sort of challenge people's expectations about what a person's supposed to be.

It was interesting, I did a gig at Neck of the Woods and it wasn't the usual crowd that was seeing me because there was this quite macho hip-hop act straight after me, so there was this huge group of young guys.

Some of them were yelling abuse and some guys were confused and some guys were really into it, so it was just a really interesting response. They're just not sure what to do. But I thought that was good to expose some people.

What kind of response have you had to Women About Sound?

Most people have been really positive, especially female musicians I've approached to be part of it and to speak at some workshops, they've all been really keen.

What do you have planned for the workshops?

The first workshop is kind of a panel discussion just to get thinking about issues and to get insight from other people why they think there’s less female musicians in the scene, and also just to create a bit of social networking.

The second one is focused on songwriting and a few musicians will be leading and they can kind of go through it.

And then the third ones looking at what you need to do to prepare yourself for recording in a studio, so then that will hopefully lead up to some people doing some recording.

The first Women About Sound workshop will take place on Sunday from 1-4pm at The Audio Foundation, with the second and third sessions taking place on March 26 and April 2.

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